Padmarajan’s ‘Nombarathi Poovu’ is a stunningly poignant tale about relationships

Madhavi and Mammootty turn in top-notch performances in this 1987 film.
Padmarajan’s ‘Nombarathi Poovu’ is a stunningly poignant tale about relationships
Padmarajan’s ‘Nombarathi Poovu’ is a stunningly poignant tale about relationships
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When we see Padmini (Madhavi), it does look like she is leading an uncomplicated life – a lecturer, she lives with a friend in a rented house. A little girl comes to her doorstep with a piece of paper that has Padmini’s address scribbled on it. Padmini clothes and feeds her and allows her to stay. But in truth, the little girl turns out to be the ray of sunshine in her otherwise drab life.

Nombarathi Poovu (The sorrowful flower), scripted and directed by Padmarajan, is a stunningly poignant tale about relationships curtailed by marriages, the pain and emptiness over the loss of loved ones, the selfish need in all of us to love and be loved, and how strange, indescribable bonds are created between total strangers. Padmini – quiet, dignified and resilient – steers the narrative forward. She is carrying a storm of misery inside her; the pain of losing her two young daughters in a bike accident when her husband was riding the bike. She eventually walks out of the marriage.

The film opens to Gigi seeking out Padmini, who immediately gives her shelter. Padmarajan tenderly sketches their bond, without any drama. That she is a child with special needs is also depicted without much fuss – her inability to recognise colours, alphabets or just follow instructions. They also chose a child actor (Baby Sonia) who was very good at internalising Gigi. There are no exaggerated mannerisms or overtly physical frailties making it easier for us to probably empathise with her.

Some of the most heartbreaking scenes are dealt with measured drama. The shot of the bike accident – as Padmini turns away from waving to them and slowly walks away, she hears a loud shattering noise. At a distance we see the accident. The shock is as much Padmini’s as it is ours.

The good doctor

It is at Gigi’s new school that we are introduced to Dr Padmanabhan (Mammootty). Padmini and Padmanabhan are quite similar – both trying hard to fill a void in their lives through external sources of compassion. Trying desperately to find happiness through others. He has a child with special needs, and a wife who chose their second normal child over the first and walked out of the marriage. There is a terrific dialogue from Padmanabhan when Padmini mentions her difficulty in finding the school as there was no name board – “Why should I advertise their shortcomings? Wouldn’t they see it every single day as they walk into the school?”

Director Padmarajan does take the sharpness of the impact within minutes though. In the next dialogue, he says he doesn’t understand mothers who have no compassion for their own children! Patriarchal conditioning judges a mother by giving her the status of a flawless, nurturing goddess, who may at all times feel only perfect and complete love for her children. The other equal life-giver, the father, is afforded the luxury of stepping down from his pedestal and making mistakes or even loving their children a little less. The minute Padmini makes the admission that she isn’t Gigi’s mother, the doctor warms up to her. Does her not being Gigi’s mother help make her more empathetic, more noble?

A fragile relationship

The way Padmarajan handles Padmini’s and her husband’s grief over their children’s death is also a bit unsettling. While Padmini seems to have never gotten over their death, the husband seems to have quickly moved on, he is only pining after his wife. Another interesting facet is how fragile their relationship always seems to have been. She never quite recovers from their children’s death and the rebound happens only through Gigi – probably in the hope that Gigi will fill in for her children. Doesn’t that question their love and marriage?

When she goes to meet the father of her children, she is awkward, even uncomfortable but some of it is smoothened by the presence of Gigi, who used to be a stranger a while ago. Makes us introspect about a lot of things we believe in, doesn’t it?

Characters and performances

Performances are top notch. Mammootty of the glorious 80s digs into any resourceful role with intensity. A role which shows what a fine, empathetic actor he is. Madhavi with her voluminous eyes is perfect, especially in her scenes with Gigi. Despite how callous and one-note Sethu (Lalu Alex) appears to be, one can’t help sympathising with him. At least his love for Padmini is unconditional. Sethu and Padmini are selfish in their own right – both are on the lookout for contentment.

There are sub-characters that never really add to the story but are interesting on their own. The friend Anitha (Shari) and her on-off husband (Murali). He is borderline alcoholic, and however much she tries to get away from him, he succeeds in enticing her back into his bed. Anitha and Padmini are correlated in Padmarajan’s universe. They are, in Dr Padmanabhan’s words, women who are incapable of staying away from their husbands, children or family, forever bound by familiar ties of patriarchy.

But Gigi stands tall amidst these complex adults – the perceptive child who understands adults more than they can understand themselves. Gigi can detect negativity from a mile, recognise compassion when she sees it and only wants to be with people who love her. It’s like someone said: “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.”

This article was originally published on The News Minute has syndicated the content. You can read the original article here.

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